2014 Corpsmember of the Year, Edgar Galvez

Edgar Galvez
AmeriCorps member - EOC Fresno Local Conservation Corps

Fresno, CA

Edgar Galvez wanted to be an honest man and earn an honest wage. A bad mistake landed Edgar in Federal Prison, but he was awarded the opportunity to participate in an alternate sentencing program. While completing the terms of his sentence at a sober living facility, Edgar first learned about how becoming an AmeriCorps member with the Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC) could help him complete his education, earn job skills, and become a productive member of his community.

“Moving forward with my life and wanting to take care of my family, the LCC was the light at the end of the tunnel for me,” said Edgar. “The opportunity to have a chance at an honest living made me want to become a Corpsmember.”

Edgar joined LCC as a YouthBuild SMART student. He gained skills in construction and landscaping and excelled as a leader on campus, earning multiple perfect attendance certificates and high praise from his teachers. As one instructor noted, Edgar not only worked hard, but “showed his leadership qualities by assisting his classmates with assignments and computer issues.”

As a result of his hard work and perseverance, Edgar won LCC’s Whatever It Takes College Award two semesters in a row. Also, as an AmeriCorps participant in The Corps Network’s Postsecondary Success Education Initiative, he received his high school diploma and enrolled in Fresno City College. Edgar paid for his classes and books with the help of the $5,550 in AmeriCorps Education Award money he earned for his 1,800 hours of service with LCC. He has become well known in Fresno for his countless volunteer hours with his local neighborhood coalition, Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life (BBNBTL), and the Southwest Subdivision of the Fresno Police Department.

“I learned to serve my community and understand the meaning of giving back,” said Edgar. “The feeling of making a positive impact on my community is invaluable.”

Edgar quickly gained the respect of his peers and the LCC staff. He was selected to be an LCC Senior Corpsmember and subsequently spent a term mentoring fellow Corpsmembers in the field and in the classroom. He was also elected to be a member of the YouthBuild SMART START Council. Edgar proved his ability as a leader and his dedication to the Council through his work counseling formerly-incarcerated Corpsmembers. His standout performance led to his being chosen to attend YouthBuild USA’s Conference of Young Leaders in Washington, DC. To this day, Edgar is an active councilmember and a participant in YouthBuild USA’s 1000 Leaders movement and the Alumni Exchange.

Edgar is enrolled in classes at Fresno City College for the spring 2014 semester. He hopes to eventually transfer to Fresno State and earn a bachelor’s degree in business. His main goal for now is to work, save money, and buy a home for his family.

These days, Edgar is a member of the Local 294 Laborers Union. Due to the classroom education and field training experience he gained while with LCC, Edgar excelled in Union certification training and currently earns nearly $19.00 an hour. He can now say he is an honest man, supporting his family with an honest income. 

Boiler Plate: 
dgar Galvez wanted to be an honest man and earn an honest wage. A bad mistake landed Edgar in Federal Prison, but he was awarded the opportunity to participate in an alternate sentencing program. While completing the terms of his sentence at a sober living facility, Edgar first learned about how the Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC) could help him complete his education, earn job skills, and become a productive member of his community.

2014 Corpsmember of the Year, Jon Brito

Jon Brito
AmeriCorps member - KUPU - Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps
Molokai, HI


The island of Molokai, Hawaii has fewer than 7,400 residents. Much of the population is of Hawaiian descent and many people still rely heavily on subsistence agriculture. The island has no traffic lights, no major stores and just one high school. Life on Molokai is slow-paced and pleasant, but the island offers few opportunities and is home to the highest unemployment rate in Hawaii (11.4% in October 2013, compared to a state unemployment rate of 4.4%). However, this statistic has never discouraged 2014 Corpsmember of the Year Jon Brito.

Jon grew up in the town of Kualapu’u, located roughly in the center of the island. After graduating from Molokai High School in 2008, Jon immersed himself in the world of environmental conservation as an AmeriCorps member with KUPU’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC). Upon completing his term with HYCC, Jon travelled to California to attend Humboldt State University. Inspired by his Corps, he enrolled in Humboldt’s Environmental Resources Engineering program. In 2012, Jon decided to take a year off from school so he could return home to gain work experience and earn money. Remembering how much he enjoyed his time with HYCC, Jon took a position with the program as an AmeriCorps team leader.

“…I enjoyed going away to college, [but] I really felt my calling here at home in Hawaii,” said Jon. “I got some amazing work experience and network connections, but I decided to transfer home to be in a program geared towards working in and benefitting Hawaii.”

Spending the summer mentoring Molokai youth as an AmeriCorps member was an empowering experience for Jon. He excelled as a team leader and served as a positive role model for HYCC Corpsmembers in whose place he had stood just four years earlier.

Jon had found his place in the Corps. At the end of the summer, he decided to continue his service by accepting a year-long AmeriCorps position with HYCC. He spent the 2012-2013 term as an intern at Ka Honua Momona (KHM), a Molokai-based nonprofit that seeks to revitalize natural and cultural resources and create connections between the Hawaiian people, their heritage and the environment. All the while, Jon continued to spread the word about HYCC and encouraged Molokai youth to join the Corps.

During Jon’s year-long internship with KHM, KUPU was unable to find a suitable team leader for the summer 2013 HYCC Molokai program. Knowing the fate of the program was at stake, Jon volunteered to put his internship on hold and subsequently served as the HYCC team leader for the second year in a row. At the end of the summer, he picked up where he had left at Ka Honua Momona and successfully completed his internship.

Jon currently lives on the island of Maui, where he attends the University of Hawaii, Maui College. He is enrolled in the school’s Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology program and plans to one day use his education to help Hawaii reach energy independence. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010 Hawaii imported some 94% of its energy and had the highest electricity prices in the United States.

“I strongly feel that the future of Hawaii depends on locally produced energy and goods,” said Jon. “From reducing our carbon footprint, to [ensuring] energy and food security; this is our future and what we will leave to the next generation.”

In addition to his school responsibilities, Jon serves as an energy efficiency and agriculture intern with KUPU’s vocational training program, RISE. In this position, Jon works with Maui’s business and agriculture sectors to improve the sustainability of their operations.

As his supervisors say, “Jon has a heart of gold and is a truly selfless person with all the right intentions.” As the only KUPU Corpsmember to have served in the RISE program as well as three HYCC programs, it goes without saying that Jon is dedicated to Corps and environmental sustainability.

“I believe with an absolution that only good comes out of what Corps do,” said Jon. “It is my firm belief that Corps empower people to do good in this world.”

Boiler Plate: 
As his supervisors say, “Jon has a heart of gold and is a truly selfless person with all the right intensions.” As the only KUPU Corpsmember to have served in the RISE program as well as three HYCC programs, it goes without saying that Jon is dedicated to Corps and environmental sustainability.

Waukegan, Illinois Salutes Local AmeriCorps Members


Speakers at an event to honor AmeriCorps members in Waukegan, IL. Corpsmember of the Year Germain Castellanos pictured on the far left.

For one week every year, communities and nonprofit organizations rally together to honor AmeriCorps members, AmeriCorps alums, and the hard work these men and women do for our country. During this year’s AmeriCorps Week, held March 9 – 17, Youth Conservation Corps of Lake County (YCC) joined with other area nonprofits to salute local AmeriCorps members at a ceremony in Waukegan, Illinois’s Robert Sabonjian Plaza.

Illinois AmeriCorps members.

The event included speeches from a number of individuals who know firsthand the importance of AmeriCorps programs. Attendees heard from representatives from Youth Build Lake County and Habitat for Humanity Lake County, as well as from Bob McCammon, Executive Director of YCC. Germain Castellanos, a YCC alum and a 2005 Corpsmember of the Year, also spoke.

Since 1994, over 20,000 people from Illinois have served as AmeriCorps members. They have donated a combined 26 million hours of service to bettering American communities.

Thank you for everything you do!

How a Former Corpsmember Helps Current Corpsmembers: Mike Bridges' rise from Corpsmember to Supervisor

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,
Michael Bridges

Mike receiving his award at The Corps Network 2006 National Conference in Washington, DC

Michael Bridges, formerly a Corpsmember with Conservation Corps of Long Beach, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Mike and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2006 National Conference.

Michael Bridges followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined Conservation Corps of Long Beach in 2003. Mike had recently dropped out of high school and thought that becoming a Corpsmember would be a good way to get back on track.  

“I saw how it was changing the lives of some of the Corpsmembers and I realized really quickly that it was a second chance for me to get things going in own my life,” said Mike.

Mike progressed quickly at CCLB, ultimately moving through eight levels of the program. He served as a member of the Corps Council, was awarded seven Outstanding Achievement Awards, and earned more than $5,000 through the AmeriCorps Education Awards Program and the CCLB scholarship fund. Mike was so respected by his peers that they nominated him to speak at the CCLB graduation.

Though he had sometimes struggled in the traditional school system and subsequently dropped out, Mike felt that attending classes through CCLB was a positive and rewarding experience. He obtained his high school diploma within just one year of joining the Corps.

“There were fewer students than in a regular high school so we got a lot more attention than we would from the teachers in a traditional school. We got a lot more one-on-one attention,” said Mike.

Within a few years of receiving his diploma, Mike was promoted to a Supervisor position with CCLB. He’s been with the Corps ever since.

“What’s kept me here is that I’ve kind of grown into my position,” said Mike. “I like working with young people and trying to make a difference in their lives. I’m just trying to help give them that second chance that somebody once gave me. So I’m basically just returning the favor.”

As a Supervisor, Mike teaches new Corpsmebers some of the skills he learned from his own Supervisors when he was a Corpsmember. Among other projects, Mike has led his crews in landscaping, habitat restoration, stream cleaning, and litter and weed abatement efforts.

“None of my days are average working with young people, but basically I a) Ensure my Corpsmembers are safe when working in the field, and b) Ensure that they do the project properly,” said Mike. “I educate them and teach them not only the various skills that we use out in the field, but I also educate them in how to conduct themselves as young adults should. So it’s basically the whole gambit…I teach them work skills, but also work habits, like how to be responsible and how to become a productive employee.”

Though he was an extremely successful Corpsmember, Mike says that he has achieved his greatest accomplishments with CCLB as a Supervisor. For Mike, it is very gratifying to see his Corpsmembers get promoted within the Corps or move on to a post-secondary education opportunity.

“Training new people and actually having them succeed and receive additional promotions…that’s a great feeling, that’s what makes me feel the most accomplished,” said Mike.

Having been a Corpsmember himself, Mike feels like he’s in a good position to understand what his crewmembers might be experiencing. Still, being a Supervisor is very different from being a Corpsmember.

“When I was just a Corpsmember, I was more worried about just getting my life back on track and doing the assignment in front of me. Now, as a Supervisor, I have to show a lot of leadership and focus on changing the lives of the Corpsmembers and actually educating them,” said Mike. “I almost feel like a parent when I’m around my Corpsmembers…They have a lot of things going on in their lives and in some cases I have to step in and be the parent for a Corpsmember. So I’m in more of a role model position versus when I was concerned just with myself and my own future back when I was a Corpsmember.”

Mike’s busy schedule has prevented him from finding the time to use the scholarship money he received as a Corpsmember, but he plans to eventually earn some kind of higher degree. He knows he wants to continue working in conservation and hopefully earn positions with greater levels of responsibility. For the foreseeable future he is very content to stay with Conservation Corps Long Beach.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Mike says:

“Just don’t lose sight of your goal and the reason why you came into the Corps. Don’t worry about what other people might be telling you – just stay out of the drama. Keep sight of your goal of getting your high school diploma and take advantage of the second chance that you’ve been offered. Just keep focused.”

How Sequoia Community Corps helped Marcos Molina build a better life for his wife and children

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2008 Corpsmember of the Year,
Marcos Molina

Marcos receiving his award at The Corps Network 2008 National Conference in Washington, DC.

Marcos Molina, a former Corpsmember with the Tulare County Youth Corps (now the Sequoia Community Corps), won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 for his commitment to service and self change. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Marcos and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2008 National Conference.

Marcos Molina is very honest about where he might be today if he had never joined the Sequoia Community Corps.

“I’d probably be in jail or dead,” he said.

Marcos heard about the Corps (which was then called the Tulare County Youth Corps) from a cousin. It was 2007 and Marcos was unemployed and involved in the court system. He and his wife and their two young daughters lived in a single room in his mother’s house. Marcos had dropped out of high school, but having a young family to support motivated him to get an education and turn things around. Marcos was quick to sign up for the Corps when he found out that the program offered a chance to work while also earning high school credits.

“In high school I was a troublemaker. I was hanging out with the wrong people and the wrong crowd. And when I came to the Corps I was around different kinds of people and it was a whole different story. I just decided that I was tired of that no good life,” said Marcos.

Adjusting to the culture and the expectations at the Corps wasn’t easy for Marcos. Many of his supervisors were concerned he wouldn’t make it through the program. It was with the personal attention and support of one particular supervisor that Marcos was able to not only finish the program, but excel.

“My attitude was a big problem. Especially my attitude towards other people,” said Marcos. “I wasn’t really used to working with a supervisor and other Corpsmembers. Where I had worked before it was always ‘just a job’ and I was like ‘boom, boom – get it done.’ But then at the Corps there were different rules you had to follow, you had to have a good attitude, and there were attendance rules. They were teaching us the right way to do our jobs and handle problems.”

Marcos’s dedication paid off. He became an Assistant Crew Leader and was eventually promoted to Crew Leader. Marcos was not particularly interested in construction work when he came to the Corps, but through his time as a Corpsmember he learned every aspect of concrete work, chain link fence installation, landscape maintenance, and heavy equipment operation. He even became a Certified Construction Trades Trainer and taught new Corpsmembers how to operate heavy equipment.

These days, Marcos is a Supervisor with the Corps in the Weatherization program. With his various professional certifications, Marcos is qualified to train new Corpsmembers how to safely install energy efficient appliances, install new doors and windows, and generally make sure homes are as weathertight as possible.

“When they made me a supervisor, that really helped me out a lot – moneywise and all around. Then I could do more things with my family that I couldn’t do before because of the money,” said Marcos. “Now, since I was a Corpsmember too, I know how to approach the Corpsmembers because they’re in the same shoes that I was in. I know how to help them out. If they have any questions I’ll try to help.”

Marcos sees a little bit of himself in the Corpsmembers he trains. He realizes that many of them join the Corps without construction experience or knowledge of tools. It’s a good feeling for him to be able to take them under his wing and pass on the skills he learned at the Corps. Marcos maintains contact with the Corps’ mentors and supervisors who took the time to help him when he was a new Corpsmember.

“Some of them taught me a lot of the knowledge that I know now. I like to keep in touch just to get some words of wisdom every now and then,” said Marcos.

While with the Corps, Marcos earned his high school diploma, obtained his driver’s license, and bought his own car and apartment. Today, Marcos has a mortgage on his own home and multiple cars. He has considered going to college, but for now his main concern is making sure his family is provided for and comfortable. Marcos is very conscious about setting a good example for his daughters. He sometimes volunteers at their school and always makes time for family activities.

To young Corpsmembers and to youth thinking about joining a Service and Conservation Corps, Marcos says:

“The sky is the limit. That’s how I see it. There’s no stopping point, you should always try and reach for better things for yourself. So keep your head up and don’t let anything keep you down. If you put hard work into what you want to do, you’ll get it done…You can get stuff done no matter where you’re from or what your situation is.”

A Good Environment: James Zmudzinski shares why Fresno Local Conservation Corps is the place for him

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,
James Zmudzinski

James at The Corps Network 2006 National Conference in Washington, DC

James Zmudzinski, formerly a Corpsmember with the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 for his commitment to service and self-improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about James and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2006 National Conference.

James Zmudzinski started working at a young age. His dream was to build up his savings and eventually own an auto mechanic shop. However, there was a time when this goal seemed impossibly out of reach. James had never finished high school and barely earned enough money to support himself. As James says, he started making bad decisions and often got into trouble. When he realized it was time to get serious, James joined the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC).

James quickly became a vital member of LCC’s Flood Control Basin Maintenance Program. His supervisors saw that he was a self-starter and appreciated his positive attitude. When he wasn’t working with the crew, James proved his dedication to self-improvement by taking full advantage of the life-skills courses offered at LCC. He also applied himself in the classroom and eventually earned his high school diploma through the Corps’ charter school. He then took a few college classes with the AmeriCorps Education Awards he earned as a Corpsmember. James says his overall experience as a Corpsmember and student with LCC was significantly better than his previous high school experience.

“The part of this program that worked for me was…well, basically all of it,” said James. “The people that work here, the case managers…if you need help with anything or if you think you’re going in the wrong direction, they’re always there. It was like everybody had open arms, so it was an easy place to be.”

James worked his way through the ranks at LCC. He was hired to be a Crew Leader and eventually earned his current staff position as a Supervisor. James has now spent over seven years with the Corps.

“I like the environment here. I started from the bottom and made my way up. Working with the youth in the area – that also made me stick around,” said James.

As a Supervisor, James leads LCC crews that assist with grounds maintenance projects for housing authority properties. His crews mow the grass, trim trees, prune bushes, and generally make sure the grounds are in good condition. James is now considering opening his own landscaping business.

Though he sees landscaping as a good way to make money, James still has his heart set on becoming a certified mechanic. He says he is practically a partner in the mechanic shop where he currently helps with auto repair work. His passion is restoring old cars.

“I’ve got to have cars in my life,” said James.

Between working at LCC and working on cars, James participates in a car club in his free time. Many of the club’s members are people James grew up with. They get together to attend car shows and host barbeques and family functions. Around the holidays, they participate in Toys for Tots and distribute food to families in need. James wants to be a positive role model and set a good example for his two children.

“My actual father was never around, so I’ve been serious about being there for my kids,” said James.

James isn’t sure where he would be today if he had never found EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps. As he says, “I hope I would be in a good place, but it’s hard to say. If I didn’t get the job here, the way I was going I would’ve been nowhere good.”

To you people thinking about joining a Corps, James says:

“It’s an experience. It can change you and hopefully it will. There are people here who can get you the help you need. It’s worth the time. Just give it a try. It’s not for everybody, but at least you get some experience out of it.”

Creating a Career Path: How Centennial Job Corps helped Jessica Johnson discover new talents

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2012 Corpsmember of the Year,
Jessica Johnson

Jessica receiving her award at The Corps Network 2012 National Conference in Washington, DC

Jessica Johnson, formerly of Centennial Job Corps of Idaho, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for her commitment to service. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Jessica and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2012 National Conference.

Jessica Johnson heard about the Centennial Job Corps from her grandfather. He helped construct the buildings of the Corps’ Nampa, Idaho campus and thought that Jessica – an ambitious high school graduate – might make an ideal Corpsmember. Jessica looked into the program and decided she might as well give it a try. Sure enough, Job Corps was the perfect fit for her.

Jessica started at Job Corps learning office administration skills through the organization’s Business and Finance Program. She was quickly recognized as a hard worker and a positive role model.  Her success in the business program allowed her the opportunity to also begin training for Centennial’s rigorous firefighting program.

“I thought the fire crew sounded pretty awesome, so I checked it out – and it was pretty awesome,” said Jessica.

Jessica earned a stellar reputation with the fire crew bosses and her peers. She was dispatched on every fire call as a result of her skill and reliability. After Jessica completed her service in the Idaho Corps in May 2010, she was accepted to Advanced Fire Management training with Schenck Job Corps CCC of North Carolina for the fall of 2010. Her excellent job performance at Schenck resulted in her recruitment by the Boise Regulars for a seasonal firefighting position in Boise National Forest.

“When I was on a crew here in Idaho I was the supply manger. I kept track of our inventory and whatnot,” said Jessica. “I also helped with basic operations and making sure things were done safely.”

After completing the 2011 fire season with the Boise Regulars, Jessica spent the winter at home helping her family with babysitting and chores. Jessica has always enjoyed looking after her four nieces and nephews. She spends most of her free time with them and is always conscious of setting a good example.

For the 2012 fire season, Jessica was hired to be part of a wild land firefighting crew in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest. During her time in Oregon, Jessica was able to open her FFT1 task book. The Fire Fighter Type One Task Book is a log kept by a wild land firefighter as he or she works towards becoming a Squad Boss. Jessica spent this past summer participating in Squad Boss training and leading small groups of firefighters in their assignments. She hopes to eventually become an official Squad Boss; a position that would put her in charge of about four to eight other firefighters.

“Squad Bosses are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the crew and making sure that whatever assignments you’ve been told to do, you and your crew accomplish those things,” said Jessica. 

Jessica’s goal is to find year-round employment with a Forest Service firefighting crew. However, she’s not impatient to find such a job. She plans to start looking for a permanent position in about two to three years. Until then she wants to continue gaining experience through seasonal wild land firefighting jobs.

“I want to make sure that I really know and understand the job that I’ll be doing,” said Jessica. “I want to be qualified for it and not just run around with a title that I shouldn’t have. I don’t want to jump into anything.”

Jessica currently lives at home with her family in Idaho and continues to help with the babysitting and other household jobs. She plans to get another firefighting position when the next fire season comes along in the spring and summer.

Jessica maintains contact with some of her peers from Centennial Job Corps’ firefighting program who have also pursued wild land firefighting jobs. She also keeps in touch with some of the Corps’ staff.

“The staff there was awesome and very helpful and really motivating,” said Jessica.

To other young people thinking about joining a Corps, Jessica says:

“Use everything to your benefit and realize that’s what the Corps is there for. If you have questions, just ask the staff. If you run across someone who you aren’t necessarily on the same page with, just try talking to different staff members. Remember that not everyone communicates in the same way. Do what you need to do and follow the rules even if they’re silly and just make the whole experience your own.”

Starting Over Out West; How Corey Brown made a future for himself with the help of Mile High Youth Corps

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2010 Corpsmember of the Year,

Corey Brown

Corey receiving his award at The Corps Network 2010 National Conference in Washington, DC. Pictured with David Muraki, California Conservation Corps, and Brigid McRaith, Mile High Youth Corps

Corey Brown, a former member of Mile High Youth Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2010 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Corey and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2010 National Conference.

Corey Brown has one regret about his service with Mile High Youth Corps of Denver Colorado: he wishes he had joined sooner.

“I wish I’d looked into the Corps a long time ago,” said Corey. “…I feel like I could’ve had a better grasp on who I am as a person and also what I like and what I don’t like.”

Corey’s path to the Youth Corps was not an easy one. With his mother suffering from a severe mental illness and his father dealing with serious physical disabilities, Corey had to assume many responsibilities at a young age. He did the family shopping, cleaned the house, and earned money to pay the bills. Even while he was in college he continued to juggle a full course load, work, and family obligations. As Corey said, he was burnt out, depressed, and worried that he didn’t have room to make any mistakes.

Corey realized it wasn’t healthy or productive for him to live this way. Fortunately, one of Corey’s mentors moved to Colorado and offered him a place to stay in Denver. Corey knew he owed it to himself to at least consider the offer. He eventually decided that the best thing he could do for himself was leave school, leave New Jersey, and head out to Colorado.

“It was a really, really hard decision. I basically just got up and left with the clothes on my back and a few things and a little bit of money in my bank account. It took me probably a good year to really finally make the decision and go all in,” said Corey. “I just felt like I was stuck and kind of helpless. I felt like this opportunity, even though it was a pretty huge risk, I only had to gain. I couldn’t really go any further down from where I was at.”

Not long after arriving in Colorado, Corey was referred to Mile High Youth Corps. During his tenure with the Corps, from May 2009 until November 2010, Corey mainly worked with the Corps’s water conservation project. His main job was to install high-efficiency toilets in low-income households throughout Denver. Though Corey admits the work wasn’t glamorous, he learned a lot about the importance of water resources.

Corey was eventually promoted to be a Mile High “alumni mentor.” Having the responsibility to motivate other Corpsmembers and help them work through their problems left a big impression on Corey. He has considered finishing his bachelor’s degree in psychology so he can one day become a licensed counselor.

“I think I look back at my own personal story and see how having mentors and counselors in my life meant a lot. If I didn’t have those few people I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Corey. “I wouldn’t have the confidence I now have. I wouldn’t be as successful. So knowing that one person can make such a big difference in somebody else’s life is what interests me in this work the most.”

After leaving Mile High, Corey spent about a year weatherizing homes in Denver and Arapahoe County with the organization Veterans Green Jobs. He then transitioned to his current position as a maintenance tech with a nonprofit that provides housing for single-parent families facing homelessness. Corey is responsible for helping with the upkeep of the organization’s 100,000 square feet of property. In his spare time, Corey volunteers his maintenance skills by providing general upkeep services for a local church. He is also looking into volunteering with the Denver rape crisis center – an organization he feels strongly about and has donated to in the past.

Right now, Corey is focused on becoming a wind energy technician. He begins classes with Ecotech Institute in Colorado in January 2013. His goal for now is to get his degree from Ecotech in the next two years and start building his career as a wind tech.

Corey says his decision to pursue a career in the green sector was inspired by his time with the Corps. He was always interested in the environment, but his Corps experience made him more passionate about conservation. However, a career path is not the only thing Corey gained from Mile High, however.

“I think probably the biggest impact was on my confidence level. I feel like before I came out to Colorado I was very passive…I’d been through a lot and didn’t have the confidence that I should’ve had,” said Corey. “Going through the Corps and being promoted, just knowing that I could be really good at what I do and be well-liked by my coworkers and peers I think was definitely a huge confidence-builder for me.”

To young people thinking about joining a corps, Corey says:

“I would recommend that if you are interested in corps at all you should definitely look into it as soon as possible. It’s more than just a job. I would just recommend using it for everything it’s worth. I know a lot of Corpsmembers do look at it as just a job and they don’t use all the other resources that a corps can offer. There’s a lot of networking that’s available and a lot of educational opportunities.”


Finding a Way to Serve at Home: How a veteran found meaningful work with Southwest Conservation Corps

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2012 Corpsmember of the Year,
Mike Bremer

Mike Bremer, formerly of Southwest Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Mike and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2012 National Conference.

There's one bet Mike Bremer isn't sorry he lost...

When he first met his wife she was serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA.  After hearing about the program Mike joked with her about how she must be “some kind of hippie.” His wife reacted by making a bet with Mike that she could find an AmeriCorps program that he would enjoy. Mike shrugged off her challenge, but it wasn’t long before she stumbled across a description of Southwest Conservation Corps’ Veterans Fire Corps.

Mike served in the Army Infantry in Iraq. When he got home he felt like his life lacked a purpose. He struggled for a number of years to find meaningful employment.

“I refueled jet aircraft. I didn’t like that. Machinist - I tried that, too. House painting - didn’t like that, either,” said Mike.

The Veterans Fire Corps program was associated with AmeriCorps – an organization that Mike’s wife was familiar with. On top of that, the Corps was accepting any and all veterans. Mike thought he should give it a try. He ended up serving as a Corpsmember from May 2010 to April 2011.

While in the Corps, Mike worked in three different districts of the San Juan National Forest and also for the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management. He completed fuels mitigation projects, pile burning, and area burns. He received high ratings in chainsaw safety training, wildland fire fighting, and behavior classes. Mike’s exceptional ability with a chainsaw also ensured that he could become the sawyer for his crew, an integral and coveted position, especially for a first year firefighter. Based on his performance and the strong bonds he made with his fellow Corpsmembers, the staff of Southwest Conservation Corps promoted Mike to Crew Leader the following spring.      

“With the Corps, I was able to get back to service – that’s when I’ve been at my best. It was good to be with a group of great vets – we all could share our experiences,” said Mike.

After completing the Conservation Corps program, Mike says most of the vets on his crew ended up taking jobs in wildland firefighting. Mike was hired by the U.S. Forest Service as a seasonal wildland firefighter and sawyer for San Juan National Forest in Colorado. He then got promoted to be a fulltime firefighter for the Forest Service with a hand crew in northern California. He is currently part of an apprenticeship program based out of Six Rivers National Forest in Eureka, California. The program gives Mike the opportunity to travel throughout the country and gain experience with different types of wildland fires.

Though Mike is very happy with his current position, the job is definitely not an easy one: between May and September of 2012, he ended up working about 800 hours of overtime - about 100 days of extra work. Mike says he and the guys from the Veterans Fire Corps have maintained contact and swap stories about their experiences in the field.

“We saw some pretty extreme fire behavior this past season,” said Mike.

As part of his apprenticeship, Mike will attend the Fire Academy; a month-long program in Sacramento that trains firefighters for future leadership positions. Mike definitely sees firefighting as a career he wants to stay with.

“I’d like to stay in fire operations as long as my body will hold out,” said Mike.
Firefighting had never been on Mike’s radar until he joined the Veterans Fire Corps. He feels like he would probably be in “some lame job that [he] hated” if his wife hadn’t helped him find the Corps. Mike says he would strongly recommend the Corps experience to other veterans who might be struggling to find meaning in civilian life.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Mike says:
“Just hang in there and do a good job every day. You never know – it could lead to bigger and better things.”


Video: Meet the 2013 Corpsmembers of the Year